Field Grey Icons: A Brief History of the Bib Shirt

05.03.2018

The bib shirt has a long and varied history. It has been a staple in the formal man’s wardrobe for centuries, but variations of bib styles have graced fashions and catwalks across the decades with varying degrees of success. Here we examine the history of the bib shirt and its sartorial siblings.

Etymology

The word ‘bib’ stems from the Middle English word ‘bibben’, meaning to drink, which in turn comes from the Latin bibere. The association came because the original garment was worn when drinking or to soak up spillages. The bib has long been part of our everyday lives, but there are many examples across the history of fashion and culture where its status has been elevated.

The Formal Bib Shirt

The formal bib, commonly known as a tuxedo shirt, is synonymous with mens tailoring. Back when a shirt was considered underwear and a man would never leave the house without a waistcoat or jacket on top, the bib area would be the only part of a shirt on show. This led to many styles of shirts where the chest area was decorated.

The Practicalities of a Bib Shirt

Away from traditional formalwear, another style similar to the bib shirt became popular as part of various workers’ uniforms. This design, with its extra layer of fabric, was especially popular with American policemen and firefighters in the 19th century. The design, like the one seen below, had many functions: it provided a smarter look, kept shirts together under strenuous activities, and it gave added protection, particularly for firefighters from potentially harmful burning embers.

The Cavalry Shirt

Popularised by Wild West movies, the cavalry shirt wasn’t actually common apparel, but it typifies the frontier fashions that are so famous. In an era in which tuberculosis was a death sentence, the extra material was thought to protect the chest and guard against the disease. The shirt has featured heavily in American culture, for example during the California Gold Rush of 1848-1855.

The Disco

Traditionally, menswear has less individual garments to fancify. That has all changed now, of course, but the bib area of a man’s shirt became a popular hotspot to embellish. GQ referenced the shirt with ruffle front bib, inspired by the uniform of Flamenco dancers, as early as 1957, when it featured illustrations of the styles in fashion previews. The Academy Awards in 1959 saw some stylish males wear the shirt for the first time; by 1961 the styles had been adopted into mens formalwear. The designs appeared in bib form and full length, and are synonymous with 1960s and 1970s decadence. In her 1978 work The Complete Book of Etiquette, Amy Vanderbilt advised that the ruffled flouncy shirts were not in good taste “and never were, in the opinion of many.” We beg to differ.

On the Catwalks

The bib shirt design has been referenced by many designers on the catwalks over the years. Of course, the classic bib will always be found in menswear collections that feature tailoring. The bib has often found its way into womenswear, too – with designers like Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent.

Valentino SS13

The Field Grey Bib Shirt

Field Grey presents the bib shirt as part of our new Readywear range, a capsule collection of off-the-peg uniform garments. Inspired by the rich history of the style, it is available for both men and women. The shirts are available in a variety of colours, too.
Field Grey Readywear
For more information about Readywear, call us on +44 (0) 203 948 3000 or email info@field-grey.com.